Friday night sees a pivotal Conference B fixture as Ulster Rugby look to secure their Guinness PRO14 Final Series qualification when they face Edinburgh Rugby.
With both sides hoping to finish in the top three as the business end of the season approaches, BT Murrayfield will play host to a crucial match.
What’s at stake?
With three points separating the two sides in second and fourth place in Conference B, a bonus-point win for either side could go some way to securing their spot in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series with just a week to go.
Ulster – who tasted defeat in Glasgow after a four game winning streak – sit on 54 points and know that any sort of win will see them through.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh – seeking their third successive victory – know a loss could see them out of the running if Benetton earn a bonus-point win against Munster Rugby.
Team news (Edinburgh)
Scottish international Magnus Bradbury comes into the side to replace John Barclay at blindside flanker as Richard Cockerill makes a single change to the side that beat Scarlets last weekend.
Club centurion Ross Ford – who will depart the team at the end of the season – is named among the replacements and could make his last appearance in front of the home fans.
Team news (Ulster)
Dan McFarland has made three changes to his starting XV as Iain Henderson returns to skipper the side in the second row.
Ulster will also welcome back-rower Nick Timoney and exciting winger Robert Baloucoune back to the side.
Edinburgh Head Coach Richard Cockerill said: “We’ve got to win. It’s the same as last week. If we don’t, we’re relying on other results and miracles. We’ve just got to keep winning.
“Although Ulster were beaten by Glasgow, they were extremely good against Leinster the week before and they should have won. They’ve had a tough run in. They played in Dublin, Glasgow and now they come to us.
“We’ll put out our best team and we’ll both go as hard as we can to try and win. They’ve got a lot of quality, but we’ve got some pretty good players too.”
Ulster centre Darren Cave said: “Our conference is so tight between first, second and fifth.
“There’s so much stake in finishing in all of those spots. Even if you finish third you make the playoffs, but you’re away from home.
“For us, we just need to get as many points as possible. Edinburgh are breathing down our neck and are a very good side at home.
“But we put in a great performance this time last year so we’re confident we can get a result.”
Key Battle – Jaco van der Walt vs Billy Burns
Jaco van der Walt inspired Edinburgh to a storming victory over Scarlets last time out with nine minutes of inspired rugby.
A try, two conversions and a penalty led a second-half comeback for his side as they kept themselves in the running for Final Series qualification.
Ulster’s Billy Burns will try to contain him – the 24-year-old has been brilliant in his all round game, but his defensive work will need to be impeccable to stop the South African.
Key fact: While imperious at home, Ulster have only won four away games this season.
Did you know? The sides were separated by a single point last time out. as Ulster edged out Edinburgh 30-29 back in September.
Edinburgh: D Graham; D Hoyland, M Bennett, M Scott, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally (capt), WP Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Mata.
Replacements: R Ford, A Dell, S Berghan, C Hunter-Hill, J Barclay, C Shiel, S Hickey, G Taylor.
Ulster: J Stockdale, R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, I Henderson (capt), K Treadwell, N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, A Kernohan.
TV: At Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports 1 & eir Sport 2.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
AR1: Lloyd Linton (SRU), AR2: Wayne Davies (WRU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)
The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets
Ulster sealed second place in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 with a professionally won 29-7 triumph on the road at BT Murrayfield.
Two scores in the first half from Jordi Murphy and Robert Baloucoune, coupled with stout Ulster defence, gave them a healthy platform as they held Edinburgh Rugby off throughout.
John Barclay’s second-half try looked to have sparked the hosts, but again Ulster’s rearguard action prevailed, nipping any danger in the bud at each crucial juncture of the match to frustrate Edinburgh and take a sweetly earned bonus-point back across the Irish Sea.
The visitors were first on the board through the boot of John Cooney, but were dealt a blow when Marty Moore hobbled off inside ten minutes of play.
In spite of the loss, the visitors rallied to open up a ten point lead in strangely sedate circumstances.
Winning the ball back on the Edinburgh line after a searching kick from Jacob Stockdale, the chance looked to have gone when Ulster lost it forward, but Murphy showed alert reactions to pounce on the ball and, after a little help from the TMO with no-one quite sure just what had happened, the loose ball was adjudged a rip and the try was good.
Despite endeavour, Edinburgh couldn’t get a foothold in the contest, as Ulster looked to add to their tally with tireless drives that threatened constantly.
And their misery was compounded with the seconds ticking on the first-half when Billy Burns looped a tempting pass wide right to Baloucoune, who darted round two Edinburgh defenders to dive into the corner and deal Edinburgh a sucker-punch blow on the cusp of the break.
Errant Edinburgh kicking set up Ulster for a crucial third score fifteen minutes into the second 40 when Henry Pyrgos box-kicked straight out.
From the resultant line-out Ulster moved it across the width of the field, finding Rob Lyttle, who hurled down the touchline and, with three Edinburgh defenders hanging off him, bulldozed over.
But the score seemed to jolt the hosts into life, as Edinburgh took quick ball into Ulster territory, John Barclay showing fleet feet to step inside and take it across the line to break his side’s duck.
Ross Ford came on for his 199th appearance in an Edinburgh shirt, and possibly his last at BT Murrayfield, to the delight of the partisan crowd, but couldn’t translate the atmosphere into penetration.
Instead, Ulster saw out the contest in style, holding Edinburgh at bay before notching up a bonus-point with a minute left on the clock when Burns put the finishing touches to a dangerous attack.